Game: Aerial Adventure Guide Sky Captains Handbook
Publisher: Goodman Games
Review Dated: 17th, August 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 4.00
Back at the dawn of 3rd party d20 publisher Goodman Games was the one who did the unusual and original supplements (a good thing!). They had intelligent alien dinosaurs! It’s somewhat ironic that Goodman Games now has some of the absolute classics under their belt – the famous Blackmoor – Goodman Games purposely recreates the old ways with the hugely successful Dungeon Crawl Classics.
The Aerial Adventure Guide: Sky Captain’s Handbook is a mix of the two. Here we have an original and exciting book and yet it’s very much in the established D&D tradition. We have a new realm, new PC races, new monsters and prestige classes and equipment to suit.
One of my pet hates about books which introduce tempting new elements to a game is that – well – that they’re tempting and new. If I want to have Example Knights in my game then I’d want to have had them there from the start and not have to add them later and explain why neither player nor NPC had mentioned them before. We don’t have that problem with the Aerial Adventure Guide. It’s possible to add the elements and characters from this book in such a way that they’ve never had any contact with the ground before. The sky realms can be so far up that they’re nothing but rumour and legend on the ground – if that. They can be so far up that the ground can be “best left alone” or ignored by those in the sky.
There are three main races in the book; Sky Elves (the default goodies), Avian (in the middle) and Arachial (the baddies). The Sky Elves are touch vanilla – elves who way-back-when took to the skies via a typical high fantasy divine intervention. The Sky Elves now travel around on the cinematic centre pieces which are the flying ships. The avians are part human, part orc and part bird in appearance. They’re tribal barbarians who live hard and die hard and I think are rather fun. The Arachial are only fun if you’re the GM. These are sentient spiders who live off blood. They’re wonderfully wicked. See that dark cloud in the sky? You’d better hope it doesn’t see you. These three are all play-able.
There are prestige classes; the Air Knight, Elemental Convert and the Sky Elf Battle Captain. These are 10, 3 and 5 level classes respectively. They’re all shamelessly high fantasy too – but that’s acceptable, as is the book’s claim to be completely world neutral. If you’re dealing with flying boats then you’re in a high fantasy game. The Sky Captain’s Handbook would not suit Ravenloft. It doesn’t need to, though.
There are feats. Do you have enough aerial feats? Thought not. There isn’t a bloat of feats here and we don’t have exclusively aerial feats either. Take the rather dangerous Blood Drinker feat – this Arachial only feat actually ensures the sky spider enjoys bonuses when it drinks Sky Elf blood.
The specialist equipment chapter runs naturally onto the aerial combat section. Aerial combat can be tricky – with this guide it is as complex or as simple as you want, but it shouldn’t be tricky. I find the Aerial Distance Table particularly handy. At a first glance you have an entire page of numbers. My initial reaction was “What the fudge is this?” (as you can see, my first reaction was very polite) but it just takes a second look to see its worth. If you enemy is 50 feet long and 25 feet down from you – how far does your archer need to shoot? Okay, so take the square root of the sum of the square of the shortest two sides to find the length of the hypotenuse … or, dump the maths, and check the Aerial Distance Table instead. You’re shooting 55 feet. One day d20 will be metric.
I think Sky Ships are one of the great attractions to the Sky Captain’s Guide. Goodman Games knows what gamers want – sure we want cool ships and rules for them but we also want to invent our own. Mike Mearls is an experienced author, he knows what to do, we have handy and easy templates and examples. Just as importantly there are plenty of inspiring illustrations too. Kudos to Carlos Henry, William McAusland and V. Shane for the art. In addition we’ve deck plans too – they’re used as resources and as decoration – so kudos to Clayton Bruce as well.
As the presence of the Sky Elves, Avian and Arachial suggest the Aerial Adventure Guide is a fully fledged “campaign world”. I have to use the quotes since you could play here as an independent world or you could add it to any high fantasy world of your own. The aerial world has floating islands; they look like clouds from below but have a visible surface – often with forests, castles or even the remains of previous sky civilizations. The Aerial Adventure Guide has a number of these floating islands written up. There are some especially nice twists here – like the inhospitable floating islands which are used purely as a source of iron ore.
There are some flying monsters in the core D&D books. The Sky Captain’s Handbook introduces so many new sky terrors that the characters will be afraid to look up. Ha. Good!
The book finishes with help for the GM (rather than Sky Captains). This is warranted too. I doubt many fantasy GMs buying Goodman Games books will need help with the basics but aerial adventures are as about as far from standard high fantasy as you can get.
I liked the book. It’s a handy hardback to have around. Aerial adventures is an easy and yet dramatic twist to throw into your game. As it’s entirely possible to introduce the entire Aerial Adventure Guide without having to faff around the, “Why didn’t I know about this before?” question I think the book is twice as valuable as any ground based alternative. It’s good stuff.